ASHBURN, Va. -- As Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow sat on a cart preparing to leave FedEx Field on Nov. 22, 2020, his season over because of a knee injury, his former college teammate, Chase Young, walked over and leaned in. He told Burrow he loved him; he told him to get well. And then Young said a little prayer.
But the Washington Commanders pass-rusher also knew one thing: Burrow would be back. And he might be even better. Burrow is a major reason why the Bengals will play the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI on Sunday (6:30 p.m. ET, NBC).
"Joe's that dude," Young told ESPN. "No one's really surprised."
Though Burrow made his name at LSU, where he won a national title and Heisman Trophy -- Young was also one of four finalists with him in New York -- Young said those who knew Burrow before he became a household name understood his potential.
The quarterback spent three years at Ohio State, transferring in 2018 after he graduated following a spring competition against Dwayne Haskins for the starting job. Young spent one season with Burrow as an Ohio State teammate.
"A guy's work ethic tells who he is and Joe was always a guy who was never afraid to work," Young said. "He always wanted to be first in everything. We used to have our team runs and it was a competition; Joe never wanted to lose."
Young then pointed to a video that resurfaced recently showing Burrow involved in a competition at Ohio State. A tire was placed between two players -- Burrow and linebacker Pete Werner. The players then grabbed the tire with the goal of pulling the other guy outside of a designated area on a mat. Burrow won.
"We knew wherever Joe went he'd be 'that guy,'" Young said. "We know how he's wired. Everything Joe does I look at it and smile."
Former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer once told ESPN that Haskins won the job over Burrow in part because even though he viewed Burrow as a stronger competitor -- owing to his days as a three-sport standout in high school -- Haskins was more advanced as a passer.
"Joe can deliver that rock now," Young said. "That was never a problem."
Nor was his demeanor. Some refer to him as Joe Cool for how he handles situations, such as leading a comeback from a 21-3 deficit on Jan. 30 in the AFC Championship Game to beat Kansas City on an overtime field goal.
"Joe was always cool," Young said. "I remember my freshman year I went to a house party and saw Joe there. He had a good time, he was dancing. He was always a good teammate, just a good guy that loves ball."
During the 2019 season another former Ohio State teammate, Commanders receiver Terry McLaurin, was asked about Burrow. McLaurin's eyes lit up and he said, "That's my boy!" He later said Burrow can galvanize a team and others want to compete with him because he plays with an edge. That's why McLaurin, who also was around the cart when Burrow was injured in 2020, knew the quarterback would be OK.
McLaurin, who spent three years with Burrow at Ohio State, also predicted something that came true.
"He always bounces back from adversity, from challenges," McLaurin said the day Burrow was injured. "He attacks them head on ... and watch out, because he's a guy who every time he gets knocked down he gets back up a little stronger."
That's what Young hopes for himself after tearing his ACL in his right knee on Nov. 14 -- almost a year after Burrow's injury. Young has been rehabbing his knee in Colorado, saying he's already squatting 225 pounds and performing one-legged squats with weight on the back of his knee. He's jumping, too.
"I'm in the mindset of Rocky Balboa when he went to the mountains, chopping trees and things like that," Young said, referencing the movie "Rocky IV." "I'm starting out blue-collar, that grit, just getting that mindset so when the season comes around I'm ready to rock."
Young did not have the sort of season he or others expected. After a strong finish to his rookie year -- he recorded four of his 7.5 sacks, forced two fumbles, recovered three and scored a touchdown over his last six games of the 2020 season -- he struggled to make big plays in 2021. Facing more double teams and chip blocks from opposing tight ends, he finished with 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in nine games before his season-ending injury.
"Everybody has hiccups in the road," he said. "It's not about how you start, it's how you finish. I plan to ... keep working hard and just working to the person I want to be, the Hall of Famer I want to be one day."
For now, though, Young's at the Super Bowl as part of USAA's Salute to Service platform. Through USAA, Young awarded a trip to Los Angeles plus two Super Bowl tickets to Capt. Darryl Griffing, a member of the Georgia Army National Guard. Young will meet with Griffing on Saturday in Los Angeles.
Young said he has a soft spot for the military because his grandfather was in the Air Force.
"It's crazy; it's a blessing to be able to bless others," Young said. "Knowing my grandfather, he'd be real proud of me."